The leaves are turning a magnificent yellow-red (gotta love a European autumn), the temperatures are dropping rapidly (nobody likes a European autumn) and we are fast approaching our one year mark in Berlin. The one year mark is where you have finished a full cycle of school year, holidays, birthdays, and seasons. It is where you are supposed to move from the “life or death” mode right into the “hey, this is not that bad” mode. After all, at the end of this first year we have all the important things nailed down – we have a good understanding of the public transportation system and when we actually have to pay for it (I have a system), we managed to figure out how to watch all our TV shows and movies without them being dubbed (I still can’t wrap my head around this dubbing frenzy), and we finally cracked the most difficult hurdle of all – how to use Amazon Germany and actually get our things (the combination of sellers who send things without tracking, a horrid post system and delivery guys who love dumping packages in weird places had led to a few birthday presents arriving a couple of months too late).
I wrote a bit about the difficulties I had moving here, and there is no denying this year we felt the “life or death” thing quite strongly. I guess some of it is the language barrier which we didn’t experience so strongly before (though I still think my accent is one of the worst I heard, and though when I am upset or angry I lose all of it, on regular days English is quite decent), some of it was the cultural gap (or lack thereof), where we discovered how many of the charming traits we thought we left behind in Israel are common here (or, as Ron put it on one really annoying U-Bahn trip – someone should send all of them to the UK to take a basic manners course) and some of it was the never-ending, soul-sucking, always-in-German bureaucracy they seem to adore here, which unexpectedly comes hand in hand with an amazing disorganisation and a complete inability for bending or seeing people as… Well… People.
All in all I find it really hard to describe Berlin. It has so many contradictions which somehow manage to live so harmoniously together. It is considered one of the coolest places in Europe, yet somehow it feels like a city suited for old people (it is amazing how easy it is to find sewing, knitting and baking things here); It is considered the hot place for start-ups yet anything to do with internet is lagging so much behind it is sometimes a surprise we even have internet in the house (well, it does crush down at least every other day. More on winter or weekends); It is full of hipsters and young people who try so hard to look cool yet they all look the same; Everyone here is a health-nut (everyone here exercises, buys only bio, and rides a bike everywhere) yet they all smoke like a chimney; It is all about tolerance and acceptance but only for sex and drugs, disabilities don’t exist here; It is an international hub with people from all around the world, yet the people in the foreigner office speak only German; It is an amazing place to visit, yet a harsh place to live. As someone put it, Berlin lives at the same time as what it wants to be and as it is. I found and still find this gap unbearable.
Not that it is all bad, don’t get me wrong, this gap, this not-really-a-big-city mentality is also what makes Berlin an amazing place to raise a family. Kids grow up around here as if they live in a small village in the 80’s. They play outside, walk home from school by themselves, learn independence from a very young age, but mostly they get more time to enjoy being kids. It is also what makes it possible to breathe easily around here, all the green, all the space, all the quiet. Berlin has amazing food scene, especially if you like eastern European food (like me – pastries, cakes, and lebkuchen. How can you not?) but it also has to feed all those international hipsters so they have everything here (the Falafel is great). And as everyone knows, Berlin is mostly dirt-cheap (except for the public transport prices, hence the need for a system), which is always a nice bonus and makes it easier to live (especially after you get used to London prices).
Are we moving to the “it’s not so bad” realm? I am not entirely sure. It is definitely no longer life or death, and it looks like we are getting a handle on how to live here. Hey, we even have all the necessary doctors (after food there is nothing Jewish people love more than doctors) though none of them is the drug-prescribing sort (they can all recommend a very good herbal tea). It is not that I can’t see the magic in Berlin or the advantages of living here, and it is not even that the disadvantages weigh more, it is just that even after a year here I still don’t feel like I fit here. I know I never completely fit in anywhere, and I should by now be used to always being on the outside, and I remember sitting in my apartment in London looking at all those young professionals that always made me think of the road not chosen, but somehow I still had a place and a purpose and people. Here, I look around and I feel old. Old and odd. It was always meant to be an adventure, and I can’t say I didn’t learn a lot about myself, our family and the world (and a lot about how much the Israeli culture I grew up in was and still is influenced by the East German one), but mostly I think this year I learnt that you should look the adventure in the eye and say “hey, you are not what I intended, not at all what I thought I will get, but I am going to make sure you are still one to remember”. What dawned on me most this year is how short life is, and how every day, every moment matters.
Surprisingly enough, none of this is not why I wrote so few posts this past year. It is why I maintain an impressive secret chocolate stash, but the reason why I didn’t write is because I felt the blog was cursed. Every time I wrote a post, something happened and things took a turn to the worse. As it happened things continue to go sideways even when I didn’t write, but as I spent most of this past year inside a never-ending panic attack I thought it would be wise to not tempt fate and slowly stopped writing, stopped posting, stopped being. This past couple of weeks I have been trying to find my way out of the panic attack (also Ron made fun of me when I told him the blog is cursed) and to more of a “me” feeling, and now I can’t put it off any longer, so I wrote this post. I am still not 100% sure everything will stay ok once I release it, but I tied a red band around the computer, spread salt around all the corners of the house and prayed really hard (why yes, I am superstitious. However did you guess?) And I am going to close my eyes and press Publish.